The Green Bay Packers’ 2022 season wasn’t supposed to end in Week 11. But after losing to the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night, the Packers are 4-7 and largely out of the NFC North and Wild Card race. How will Green Bay handle its remaining six games, and what questions will Aaron Rodgers, Matt LaFleur, and general manager Brian Gutekunst face over the offseason?
The Green Bay Packers Are Hanging on for Dear Life
Based on how they’ve performed this year, it might be easy to forget the Packers were considered an elite Super Bowl contender heading into the season. In late July, after every team had essentially set its roster, Green Bay had the fourth-best odds (+1100) to bring home the Lombardi, behind only the Bills (+600), Buccaneers (+750), and Chiefs (+1000).
Instead, the Packers’ season has been defined by its inconsistency. A Week 1 loss to the Vikings confirmed Minnesota as a strong divisional rival, but three straight wins moved Green Bay to 3-1 and in playoff contention, just where everyone thought they’d be.
Then, the problems set in. A loss to the Giants in London seemed like a blip, but defeats to the Jets, Commanders, Bills, and Lions meant the sky was falling in Green Bay. A Week 10 comeback victory over the Cowboys buoyed spirits for four days until last night’s loss to the Titans.
“They whipped us in pretty much every phase,” LaFleur said of the Titans. “We’re disappointed. Give them credit. We didn’t complement each other enough. It’s obviously extremely disappointing, especially coming off a few days ago. To come back and play like that is extremely disappointing.
“I don’t think any of us thought we’d be in this spot, and we are. To have seven losses at this point of the season is extremely disappointing.”
Can the Packers Still Make the Playoffs?
Green Bay’s postseason odds hadn’t looked great for more than a month, but their defeat on Thursday likely put the final nail in their coffin. The 8-1 Vikings have all but clinched the NFC North, and the Packers don’t have a realistic chance to catch the 7-2 Giants or 6-3 Cowboys.
That leaves the seventh seed in the NFC as the only viable path for Green Bay, but that’s an unlikely route, too. The 49ers currently sit in that slot and can move to 6-4 with a win over the Cardinals on Monday night. San Francisco is simply a better team than the Packers, and a 2.5-game lead would be virtually insurmountable.
Plus, the Commanders, Falcons, and Cardinals are still ahead of the Packers in the NFC playoff picture. Green Bay has given itself absolutely zero room for error, and they’ll have to rely on the teams ahead of them slipping to have any hope of earning a playoff berth.
“We’ve got to play up to our potential,” Rodgers said after TNF. “If we play up to our potential, we can win our last six games. I’m confident in that.”
The Packers have six games plus a bye left on their schedule. They won’t be favored against the Eagles (Week 12), Dolphins (Week 16), or Vikings (Week 17). Justin Fields and the Bears (Week 13) could present a challenge, while the Lions (Week 18) already beat Green Bay once this year. The Packers’ remaining game comes in Week 15 against the Rams, who are in just as poor of a position as Green Bay.
It’s impractical to believe the Packers can run the table to close the season. Given their schedule, they’ll probably be lucky to go 3-3.
What Does 2023 Look Like for the Packers?
With the Packers’ 2022 season almost in the books, it’s time to look ahead to 2023, when Green Bay could be facing salary cap trouble. They’re projected to be $5+ million over the cap once they get their rookie class under contract next spring.
Cutting Preston Smith would save the Packers roughly $3 million (or $10.6 million if he’s designated as a post-June 1 release). But most of Green Bay’s salary cap work would have to be done via restructures.
Gutekunst and Co. can create tens of millions in cap space by restructuring the contracts of David Bakhtiari, Kenny Clark, Jaire Alexander, and Aaron Jones. Green Bay would simply be pushing money to the future, but they’ve been willing to make those moves in the past. They already restructured Bakhtiari, Clark, and Jones in February.
Still, the key questions revolve around Rodgers and his contract. Rodgers has a fully guaranteed $58.3 million option bonus in 2023, and his cap charge for next season is $31.624 million. If Green Bay decides it’s time to part ways with the future Hall of Famer, the financial component of moving on could get complicated.
As Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap has laid out, the Packers cannot cut Rodgers, as they’d absorb nearly $100 million in dead money in 2023-24. Alternatively, if Rodgers decides to walk away from all that guaranteed cash and retire, Green Bay would take on dead money charges of $15.833 million in 2023 and $24.48 million in 2024.
The other option would be a trade. If the Packers could hold off on trading Rodgers until after June 1, their dead money charges would be the same as if he’d retired. But it seems unlikely that another team would wait until the summer to acquire a new starting quarterback. If Green Bay trades Rodgers before June 1, they’ll have $40+ million in dead money coming their way.
Of course, the Packers are unlikely to move Rodgers unless they’re confident about their next quarterback – which brings us to the signal-caller Gutekunst and Co. drafted in 2020.
Will Jordan Love Play This Season?
Green Bay moved up to select Jordan Love 26th overall in 2020 with the thought he’d become Rodgers’ heir apparent. Instead, Rodgers won two MVP awards and pushed Love’s future to the back burner.
Love’s one start as a Packer came in 2021 when Rodgers contracted COVID. The Utah State product completed 19 of 34 attempts for 190 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in a 13-7 loss to the Chiefs. All told, Love has played 140 snaps and thrown 71 passes for Green Bay.
Once the Packers are formally eliminated from the playoffs, there will be calls for Love to see the field in place of Rodgers. Green Bay would surely like to see Love has to offer over multiple starts, even if it’s only showcasing him for a potential trade.
Plus, the Packers are facing an impending financial decision on Love. They must exercise or decline his 2024 fifth-year option by May 2023. That option will likely cost $19.848 million, and recent changes to the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement will make the total fully guaranteed.
Gutekunst already stated the obvious earlier this year, admitting it “would be very difficult” to envision a scenario where both Rodgers and Love are on the Packers’ 2024 roster. With that in mind, it could make all the sense in the world for Love to start a few games when/if Green Bay is eliminated.
Of course, the mercurial veteran quarterback who currently sits atop Green Bay’s depth chart — and isn’t shy about sharing his views — might have something to say about that.